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Medicine Science

Interviews: Dr. Temple Grandin Answers Your Questions 36

Recently you had a chance to ask animal behavior expert and autism advocate Dr. Temple Grandin a question. Below you'll find her answers about factory farming, animal behavior, and living with autism.
genesis of autism?
by spads

Do you follow any theories on the genesis of autism, and if so, do you prefer any in particular?

Grandin: Autism has a strong genetic basis. It has complex genetics. A little bit of the autism trait may provide an advantage such as math or art skills. Too much of the autism trait creates a severe handicap. It is like a music mixing board. There is no black and white dividing line between normal and abnormal.



ABA Behavior Therapy
by mujadaddy

Dr. Grandin, thank you for taking the time to review these topics with us. My question is regarding Applied Behavior Analysis therapy for children diagnosed with autism: what is your opinion of the benefits of these techniques?

Grandin: ABA is a good program to get language started in very young children under age five. Other intensive therapies that involve one-to-one teaching are also effective. The best ABA programs have a flexible approach.



High Function vs Low function
by gurps_npc

I understand that the words High Functioning and Low Functioning get thrown around a lot. These terms were designed to reflect the level of support the Autistic person needed. Some people claim that the difference between high and low functioning Autism is merely intelligence. Others claim that it is a matter of how severe the Autism is, not the intelligence of the person. What do you believe is the difference between a high functioning Autistic person and a low functioning Autistic person.

Grandin: The terms high and low functioning autism are not well defined. Since the new DSM5 has merged Asperger and autism together, ASD has become a huge spectrum ranging from Einstein, who had no language at age three to an adult who has difficulty with daily living skills and never develops speech.

A label of high or low functioning should never be used on young children. Some four-year-olds may look really bad, but with intensive therapy develop good skills. When I was four, I had no speech and looked really severe. Intensive therapy can improve functioning level.



Adult Diagnosis
by Jason Levine

First of all, thanks for all your work for people on the spectrum. I'm the parent of a child on the autism spectrum (High Functioning/Asperger's). When we got our son's diagnosis and I was reading up on Autism, I began to realize that these books were describing me also. Suddenly, all the things in my life that seems to set me apart from everyone else made sense. Now, I identify myself as undiagnosed Asperger's. I've considered getting a diagnosis but held back for various reasons (financial constraints, thinking my diagnosis wouldn't help my son, thinking that my diagnosis wouldn't help me). Sometimes, though, it feel like not getting the diagnosis sets me apart and casts doubt on whether I really have autism or not. Would you recommend that adults who think they are on the spectrum get a diagnosis? If so, do you have any recommendations for how to proceed with this?

Grandin: You do not need a formal diagnosis when you are mainly interested in gaining insight about yourself. Autism diagnosis is a behavioral profile. You can read the DSM 5 and it is easy to diagnose yourself. There is no definitive medical test for autism. My book The Autistic Brain explains the history of the diagnosis. Doctors keep making changes in diagnostic criteria. Autism varies from severe to just a few mild traits with completely normal speech. Autism diagnostic standards are based half on science and half on a committee of doctors having arguments in conference rooms at American Psychiatric Association meetings. As individuals age and gain experiences, they may lose some autistic traits.



Frequency of Autism
by NothingWasAvailable

Is there an actual increase in the frequency of autism, more awareness (diagnosis), changing definitions, or something else that explains the [presumed] increase in number of children with autism?

Grandin: On the fully verbal end of the spectrum, I think some of the increased incidence of autism is increased diagnosis. To receive special education services at school, many states require a diagnostic label. I went to college with geeky students who would be diagnosed with autism or Asperger’s today. Both my geeky classmates and myself benefited from 1950’s methods of parenting, where social skills were taught in a more structured way.



Coping skills progression & success
by digsbo

As you've gained success professionally, how have your coping skills had to change? Is it harder or easier now to deal with the stresses of a very public life vs. when you were a relatively anonymous student? Do we have a model yet for the progression of adaptive skills development for people with autism, or is it highly variable at the individual level?

Grandin: The more experiences you have the better you learn to cope because you have more data in your database. You must get out and do things.



Other advocates?
by digsbo

It seems like finding people with autism to act as advocates and leaders would be difficult; to the point you're probably the only well known person in that role. Do you have a community of peers with autism who help you advocate, or is much of your support from neurotypical people? Is this even a problem the autistic community faces?

Grandin: I have worked with many people in the world of science, cattle or construction trades that have autism. Most of them were never formally diagnosed. At autism meetings, I am finding more and more cases where one of the parents gets diagnosed with autism after their child is diagnosed.



Difference between human and animal cognition
by quantaman

Your work improving slaughterhouses essentially involved empathizing with the animals and understanding the factors that were causing them excessive stress.

Why do you think most people have so much trouble doing this? Is it just experience, ie we don't realize a certain rake is making the cattle nervous because we haven't lived the life of a cow. Or do you think there's something fundamentally different about the cognition of different animals that makes them respond in ways that humans have trouble relating to?


Grandin: Animals do not have verbal language. Their thoughts would be sensory based, not word based. My book Animals in Translation will provide further insights. On www.grandin.com I have an article entitled, “Thinking Like Animals.” Being a visual thinker helped me in my work with animals because I can think in pictures instead of words.



Technology and livestock handling
by g01d4

In 2014 you wrote: "I have emphasized the importance of removing distractions that cause balking from cattle handling facilities."

How has technology been employed to automatically detect and either alert or mitigate potential distraction situations? For example, using sensors to alert when external sound and motion levels become an issue or when livestock shows above normal signs of stress. Another example might be the tailored use of CAD to design facilities that take into account "other common distractions [such as] reflections on shining metal or wet floors. In indoor facilities, a ceiling light to eliminate a reflection will improve animal movement."


Grandin: There is a much simpler way to remove distractions. Walk through the chutes and you will see them. I have found that adding or moving a lamp will often eliminate distractions. Cattle and pigs are very sensitive to reflections. Some common distractions are parked vehicles, dangling chains, hose on the floor, or a coat on a fence.



industrialized farming
by Comboman

Dr. Grandin: Over the course of your career you have seen (and promoted) many changes in the humane treatment of livestock. However, over that same time period you've witnessed the decline of small family farms in favor of large-scale industrial farming with it's focus on economic efficiency. Overall, do you believe farm animals are better or worse off now?

Grandin: There is starting to be a resurgence in people getting into starting small farms to provide farmer’s markets, restaurants, and chefs. The most important factor that determines how animals are treated is the attitude of management.

I have seen large industrial-sized farms with good management and high animal welfare. I have also been on badly managed larger farms. The same principle also applies to small farms. They can be either good or bad. It depends on the management.



Businesses and Autism
by Da Cheez

What actions or concessions should businesses take, on a social and practical scale, to help integrate and utilize those with autism, especially those with a particular gifting and working environment needs?

Grandin:
  • A quiet place to work
  • Clear instruction about tasks. Vagueness does not work.
  • No sudden surprises at the work place.
  • Written instructions for work that requires a sequence of tasks. Provide a “pilot’s checklist.”
  • Correct social mistakes in a clear, calm, direct manner. Hints do not work.
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Interviews: Dr. Temple Grandin Answers Your Questions

Comments Filter:
  • by xxxJonBoyxxx ( 565205 ) on Tuesday July 28, 2015 @12:37PM (#50197799)

    >> A quiet place to work
    >> Clear instruction about tasks. Vagueness does not work.
    >> No sudden surprises at the work place.
    >> Written instructions for work that requires a sequence of tasks. Provide a “pilot’s checklist.”
    >> Correct social mistakes in a clear, calm, direct manner. Hints do not work.

    I'll bet 7 out of 10 developers would agree with Grandin's requirements for an autistic-friendly business environment.

    • by ErichTheRed ( 39327 ) on Tuesday July 28, 2015 @12:53PM (#50197877)

      I sure would and I'm not autistic. I can't stand the new "cafeteria table" style open plan workplaces. You can't concentrate on anything, hold a phone conversation with a customer/vendor, or do anything that doesn't involve talking to the 10 other colleagues crammed into your little workspace.

      • by chipschap ( 1444407 ) on Tuesday July 28, 2015 @01:22PM (#50198071)

        I wonder who dreamed up all this open-plan stuff. I have a suspicion that management cloaked this in the guise of management speak like "synergism" and so on, when actually all it is, is a way to keep the cost of office space down.

        Did most managers give up their private offices? I didn't think so.

        • by shking ( 125052 )
          It's pretty simple: open environments are significantly cheaper. They put more people in the same space. Lost productivity is a cost that is hidden from the bottom line
        • Blame it on the Germans. Apparently some Germans took what had already been common in factories since the industrial revolution and perfected it for office environments during the 1950s. PHBs everywhere have been frothing from the neck ever since.

          Interestingly, the 'advantages' section of the Wikipedia page for open plan offices [wikipedia.org] simply states "This section requires expansion". That's it? Nothing? The collective intellect of the entire internet population, after so many years, can't even think of with one l

    • I believe these requirements should be as universal as possible, not just for autistics.

    • by gurps_npc ( 621217 ) on Tuesday July 28, 2015 @12:57PM (#50197901) Homepage
      I am a programer that is not autistic and I want those requirements.

      I don't consider them autism friendly environment rules, I consider them to be business friendly environment rules.

    • by ibpooks ( 127372 ) on Tuesday July 28, 2015 @01:06PM (#50197969) Homepage

      Agreed for a technician-, basic coder or clerical-level position, but at the developer, engineer or similar professional-level position it is a reasonable expectation for the employee to work on tasks that can't be clearly defined in advanced, that don't have checklists (creating one may be a deliverable of the professional), and surprise or firefighting type situations that the techs and clericals can't resolve with the pre-existing check lists. Granted it is possible to reduce surprises with basic workplace stuff like meeting agendas and advance notice of policies, but one the flip side dealing with urgent, unplanned issues is an important part of most jobs.

      It's a difficult road to navigate. I'll add a suggestion from the other side, as someone who has managed people with this style of accommodations due to ASD-type conditions. Be as open and willing to collaborate with your supervisor as possible; help educate them. If you only work through an HR person to specify your ADA or other workplace accommodations, there is an extremely limited amount of information they can legally share with your supervisor. Of course it is your legal right to keep these things private if you choose, but it makes it much harder for your supervisor to meet your needs and to foster a productive work environment for you. It does require some trust, but the outcome can be much better. I've had it go both ways.

    • well, my workplace scores 0/5 !
    • by nmb3000 ( 741169 )

      I was going to point this exact thing out, so it's great to see you already did.

      Reading that list astonished me, because it's such a perfect description for how I wish my workplace was. And yet, when I say I wish it was quieter so I can focus on programming, I'm asked why I hate teamwork and collaboration and am told just to wear headphones.

  • by ErichTheRed ( 39327 ) on Tuesday July 28, 2015 @12:52PM (#50197867)

    Interviews like this bring up interesting points, especially the "Businesses and autism" part. I'm nowhere near autistic/Aspergers/whatever, but I feel for those who do because I certainly tend towards being an introvert. One thing to think about is this -- with the increasing numbers of people being diagnosed on the autism spectrum, where are we going to employ them?

    Software dev and IT used to be perfect places for introverts to work -- good pay, interesting work that doesn't involve a lot of personal interaction, etc. One thing I worry about is that with the current offshoring/outsourcing trend, businesses will continue letting these task-oriented IT jobs move somewhere else rather than have to deal with the "weird IT/dev guys." Increasingly, you need to be an extroverted person to be in IT, because often you're the last man standing in the "onshore team" who has to answer for the offshore teams' latest screwups.

    I'm guessing the last places for employment for those who don't want to act like salesmen are going to be in scientific research...unfortunately that's a field that many IT or dev people wouldn't be able to deal with.

    • by ibpooks ( 127372 ) on Tuesday July 28, 2015 @01:17PM (#50198023) Homepage

      I'm guessing the last places for employment for those who don't want to act like salesmen are going to be in scientific research...unfortunately that's a field that many IT or dev people wouldn't be able to deal with.

      Sadly, I think that scientific research is more sales than science already. If you can't schmooze, politic and author grants at a world-class level, your research will never get funded in the first place.

    • by Kobun ( 668169 )
      Where are all the buggy makers going to work when people stop driving buggies?
      Where are all of the film developers going to work when people stop using film?
      Where are all of the steel workers going to work when we ship our foundries to China?
      Where are all of the assembly line workers going to work when we replace them with robots?
      Where are all of the secretaries from the pool going to work when we replace them with computers and software?

      This question, time and time again. The answer(s)?
      1. Subsisten
      • "Where are all the buggy makers going to work when people stop driving buggies?"
        Service jobs.
        "Where are all of the film developers going to work when people stop using film?"
        Service jobs.
        "Where are all of the steel workers going to work when we ship our foundries to China?"
        Service jobs.
        "Where are all of the assembly line workers going to work when we replace them with robots?"
        Service jobs.
        "Where are all of the secretaries from the pool going to work when we replace them with computers and software?"
        Service

  • Explain more (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    "Both my geeky classmates and myself benefited from 1950’s methods of parenting, where social skills were taught in a more structured way."

    What structured way is he referring to ?

    • You know, enforcing funny little rules like "actions have consequences", setting expectations for behavior and performance, the sort of thing that seems out of favor in today's world where no kid can be criticized, no kid can be allowed to lose, and so on.

      Not to say that everything is better today--- in an older day abusive corporal punishment was acceptable, for instance--- but it seems there ought to be middle ground.

  • Correct social mistakes in a clear, calm, direct manner. Hints do not work

    Or maybe just guys in relationshipsv

    • by Fire_Wraith ( 1460385 ) on Tuesday July 28, 2015 @01:34PM (#50198209)
      Partly the dynamics of this sort of thing, at least as it comes to social (especially romantic) relationships, play a big role. Using romantic as an example, traditionally, men are more expected to be direct, taking a proactive role - they're supposed to be the one who asks the woman out. Again, from a traditional standpoint, the woman isn't supposed to take direct action - instead, she's expected to drop subtle hints. (Again, this is speaking in the old/traditional sense)

      The problem comes when, for whatever reason, the other party doesn't pick up on those signals (either of interest or lack thereof). It makes things a lot harder, for what should be obvious reasons. Autism can very easily lead to this sort of problem, but is hardly the only one.
  • by trout007 ( 975317 ) on Tuesday July 28, 2015 @02:04PM (#50198483)

    Living in an irrational society full of people that can't mind their own business is the hard part.

  • by Theovon ( 109752 ) on Tuesday July 28, 2015 @02:06PM (#50198505)

    I had trouble with my social development as a child. Some of it's clearly genetic. My father isn't completely socially incapable (although he did benefit from 1950's parenting methods and two older sisters who were not socially handicapped in any way), but he shows signs of high-functioning autism. But it isn't just that. My father shows signs of having at least mild narcissistic disorder, and my mother is unmistakably borderline. (Not sure what my father's excuse is, but my mother was the victim of child abuse, and her parents were much worse than mine.) So my parents didn't do a good job of teaching me social skills. Mostly, I just got into trouble for things I just didn't understand. Even after I developed empathy in around the 8th grade, I didn't know how to use it, and there was nobody I could talk to who was insightful enough to help me figure it out.

    But then when I was in my 20's, away from my parents, and perhaps having outgrown some of the innate problems, I encountered co-workers who had the patience to explain to me my social mistakes without all the "what the fuck is the matter with you" kind of reaction. Instead, they explained to me clearly and calmly (albeit with concern in their mannerisms) what I did, what it meant, and how people perceived it. I was receptive, and they were willing to help, and this lead to a rapid growth in my social ability through my 20's.

    What I've learned to do is PAY ATTENTION. I know that I have a disconnect, so I have developed a conscious habit of opening my eyes and just listening to and watching what's going on and associating people's emotional reactions (which I can read) with the social circumstances that lead to them. I'm also a bit of a goofball, which I have learned to leverage. So I smile, make jokes, and get people to talk about themselves, and people now find me to be rather charming.

    It's been a long road getting from there to here. :)

  • I didn't know who Temple was until stumbling upon the movie made about her. It would have been nice to get her take on how factual it is. My wife an I really enjoyed it.

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt12... [imdb.com]

Whenever people agree with me, I always think I must be wrong. - Oscar Wilde

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